Madine Family

6 months home- how it's going.


Posted on : 6/12/2011 | By : Joanna

Maeve has been home now for six months. She has now been with us longer than she had been with any other care-giver...including her birth family. Let me repeat that. At almost 20 months old, six months is the longest she has been with any one car-giver. It's a thought that makes me weep. Before she was 14 months old, she lived in three different places. Her experience is that every 3-4 months, she moves to a new place with new people. Imagine how stressful that would be for an adult, much less a baby.

The little girl we met in Ethiopia was just a glimpse of the girl we know now. She was sick and traumatized...and now that I know her, I know that she was terrified and shell shocked. She has changed so much since then, and I can't wait to see what she'll be like another six months from now.

I want to write candidly about the issues we've face because I have a lot of adoptive family/soon to be adoptive family friends that read this. We are all a huge support to each other and really try to learn from each other as much as possible. Also, it will help our family and friends understand the issues we're dealing with.

Our attachment/bonding has gone really well, but I strongly believe it is because of the level of effort we put forth in that area. It was our job to help Maeve feel as secure as possible as early on as possible. I relate it to a trauma patient. Doctors tell them that there is a very short window to get as good as you'll get, so you better make the best of your rehab/therapies, etc. Obviously, our attachment will be ongoing, but we felt strongly that we had to lay a very strong foundation in the beginning, especially during the 12 weeks I had off work. We basically laid low for a long time. We stayed in the house mostly, with occasional walks to the park. We did not have many visitors. No one other than myself and my husband held her, fed her or changed her diapers. We did not do anything that we thought might be sensory overload for her (no trips to the grocery store for months, etc).  We were trying to teach her that she is safe, that this is her last stop, and that we are her forever family. Even with all of our efforts, she is only now starting to show some fear of strangers. (Sometimes institutionalized kids look for attention from anyone and everyone they meet, which can be very dangerous). We still tend to be home-bodies, with the occasional weekend-playdate or weeknight dinner with friends, but we are always together and Maeve only had her first babysitting a few days ago (which was with my Dad and Step-mom and went very well).

Our fist few months were a whirlwind. We were exhausted trying to get used to the time difference. Maeve seemed to like us just fine and seemed to be adjusting well, but would have to occasional nightmare. They were horrific. She'd wake up instantly screaming bloody murder and gasping for air. We'd have to turn on all of the lights and it took quite a while to really wake her and then calm her down. Her eyes were open, but she was not awake. She'd frantically climb me like a tree, clawing and an absolute panic. And the screaming, well, it's a sound that you can't quite comprehend until you've heard it. It is primal, and it is heart-breaking. She hasn't had nightmares in months, but we have heard those screams related to hunger. I'll get to that in a second.
The main issue when she got home is what I call food panic. Sadly, before she came home, she had no control over when she ate or how much she ate...and there were times in her life that she was very hungry. In the orphanage, the nannies just appeared with food according to a strict schedule...and you ate...very fast because there were lots of other babies to feed and everyone has some catching up to do. If she even saw me making food or a bottle, she'd start screaming, gasping for air, and waving her arms frantically until I fed her. She was not used to waiting for food, so if it didn't just appear in front of her, maybe she wasn't going to get it. I started making her breakfast (oatmeal, scrambled eggs, etc) the night before so I could just quickly heat it up. I made her lunch while she was taking a nap. Eventually we got to the point that I could put her highchair in the kitchen and giver her a few bites while she watched me make her food. I still give her a nibble here and there as I'm cooking.
After my 12 weeks off, Maeve's Giardia (stomach parasite) was finally gone and I went back to work while she went to day care. Oh, we also moved houses around that time. More big transitions for her. We just tried to do things as smoothly as we could. Mark and I work staggering schedules, so that we can spend more time with her. We're taking forever to unpack because we'd rather spend out evenings and weekends with her. It only took her about six weeks before she felt really settled in the new house. She loves her school and has a great time there. I learned very quickly not to pick her up in the middle of snack time, as she ran screaming from me a slapped me in the face. Food is a big deal.

Back to the food topic (did we ever really leave it?) Our latest issue escalated very quickly a few weeks ago. We started weening her off her night-time bottle, first by mixing formula and milk (increasing the milk ratio gradually) and slowly lowering the overall number of ounces. She started really fighting going to sleep (has always been a  bit of an issue anyway) and it got gradually worse until it was an absolute battle. She was also waking up in the middle of the night screaming, which would sometimes work up to hysteric levels. We though she was just trying to train us to hold her each time we came in, we tried to get her to go back to sleep. We were all pretty exhausted. Each night we hoped she was tired enough to just go to sleep and prayed that she stay asleep. One night the bed-time battle got out of control, she screamed the primal scream I had only heard a few times before and it was all I could do not to burst into tears myself. Thankfully, our social worker was coming over the next night...and boy did she get a front row seat. :) After a couple of hours of talking, we came to the conclusion that she was getting hungry in the middle of the night...and hunger triggers a deep fear of starvation. So we made a few changes to our routine and offer her food constantly.

Old routine:
Dinner 5:30pm
Bath 7pm (exciting and getting too worked up)
Bottle 7:30
Asleep 8pm

New routine:
snack 5pm
bath 6pm
dinner 6:30
relaxing time/read books/drink bottle (100% formula) 7-7:45
brush teeth
Rock asleep by 8pm

Basically, eat dinner later and offer her a snack to tide her over. Have calming play after dinner to start winding down (may add music to this). We tried to have her drink the formula out of a sippie cup that has a soft spout, but she didn't like it. It was more of a distraction, and she wasn't drinking much, so we went back to the bottle. I may try a different kind of cup in a  few weeks. We make a big deal about putting the bottle in the fridge and saying "Bye Bye. See you in the morning". We also have a sippie cup of water in her room while I am rocking her. She'll ask for it, but only takes a couple of sips and holds it. She just needs to know that it's there. We also put it in the crib with her. During the day, we constantly offer her food. Some days she doesn't eat much. Other days she eats a ton. I talked about this in detail with her day care and send lots of extra snacks for them to offer her.

We've been doing this new routine for a little over a week and can tell it's making a big difference. As parents, you know as soon as you get one ting sorted, something else changes...and for us it can be hard to distinguish regular toddler behavior from something adoption related. I think form now on, when in doubt, just assume it's adoption stuff. In other words, if there's a issue, don't just assume they'll out grow it or it will resolve itself...AND TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.